Written and driected by Jim Cartwright
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 3rd September 2012
This was only the fourth performance of this production, and it’s shaping up well overall. There were plenty of laughs, and a fantastic turn by Jess Robinson as Little Voice was worth the price of admission on its own. The only down side for me was that the story only allowed for this one spectacular musical section, with a few other glimpses of Little Voice’s ability, and I would have liked a lot more. Still, this modern-day Cinderella story kept me engaged well enough and assuming the performances come on as they usually do, this should have a very successful tour.
The set had a cut-away house with the sitting room and Little Voice’s bedroom on the left, stairs in the middle and kitchen with overhead rooms on the right. The decor was 1970s, appropriately enough, and the kitchen was disgustingly dirty. Little Voice’s room was hard to see from the front row, but the record player, records and bed were just visible.
Around the front of the stage was a flooring made of vinyl records, and this area served as the stage of the local working men’s club. When we took our seats, the evening had already begun (get to your seats early both halves for the raffle tickets and bingo cards) and Duggie Brown as Mr Boo was warming us all up. He did a really good job, using jokes that were older than any of us, and introducing assorted acts who were both good and bad, giving us a strong sense of the working men’s club experience. I enjoyed the combined talents of the spoons player and tap dancer, not an act I’m likely to see anywhere else, and the only female George Formby impersonator was followed by a rock guitarist. Almost forgot the raffle, won by the chap next to us – a jar of pickled gherkins!
The main story started slowly, with Little Voice’s mother Mari being more central than I’d expected. Beverley Callard did an adequate job in this role and hopefully she’ll strengthen up vocally, as we missed some of her dialogue tonight even sitting in the front row. Her portrayal of an alcoholic slag with no maternal impulses whatsoever was OK, though there were pauses in the performance which should disappear when the speed picks up. Her dancing, to an old Jackson 5 track, was very funny, and she provided a strong enough character for LV’s final outburst to work.
It seemed to take an age before we heard LV singing herself, but there was a lot to set up first; the regularly blowing fuses, the new telephone, the tender blossoming of romance between Little Voice and young Billy the telephone installer, the non-relationship between mother and daughter, the neighbour Sadie. Once Mari’s new boyfriend Ray arrived, the elements were in place for the real storyline to start. Ray was a showbusiness agent who only had a few low-grade acts but once he heard Little Voice singing he knew he’d spotted a great talent, his chance to hit the big time. His change from a seemingly decent-ish bloke to a controlling manipulative bastard was charted really well by Joe McGann, and his final song on the club stage was impressive.
Ray Quinn played Billy, the shy young man with a passion for lighting who helped Little Voice to stand up for herself and break free of her limitations. His light display was lovely, and a fitting setting for her rendition of Papa Can You Hear Me?, finally sung in her own voice. But it was Jess Robinson’s solo turn as a host of great female singers which really made the evening for me. The songs had been woven together in a very clever way so that Little Voice didn’t have to do a full number, but she didn’t just sing the songs with the characteristic voices, she impersonated the singers as well. Dressed in a sparkling silver dress, slit to the thigh, she slinked and stomped her way across the stage, belting out the numbers brilliantly all the while and giving us a fantastic experience. Her performance as the nervous young woman was also good and I hope her career takes off after this; she deserves it.
The story ended happily for Little Voice and Billy, and I frankly didn’t care about Mari and Ray. The whole play had a fantasy feel to it, enhanced by the choice of music, and we left feeling happy and uplifted. There’s more to come in the performances, but they’re off to a good start and I would be interested to see how it develops. Didn’t win the post-interval bingo, sadly, so we missed out on a can of condensed milk. Ah well.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me